Tricks, Treats, and Trauma: Triggers at Halloween

Not long after fall sets in, the season of spooky ghosts, fairy princesses, and undead ghouls and zombies comes to life! This is an exciting time of year for most kids, but for those who have survived trauma, it could be a little more than is desired. In this month’s blog, we’ll discuss the reasons why we love to be scared, what can be too scary, and how to handle the sights and frights in a positive way.
Fright is Fun!
When one thinks logically about it, Halloween, horror movies, and even dangerous sports like mountain climbing or cliff diving shouldn’t appeal to us—or our kids! Any good child psychologist in Littleton knows that these are things that make our hearts race, send a shiver down our backs, and mimic some of life’s biggest dangers: falling, losing to the elements, monsters, and worse! But kids, just like adults, are drawn to these things. The act of seeking out that excitement plays a role, but it also helps us to manage and deal with these feelings when they come up in real life. Humans play with all our emotions, from tear-jerking romances to action-packed superheroes, and fear is one of many!
When Scary is Too Scary
For some children (and adults!) these “fun” scares are not so fun. While many people associate this with very younger children, people of all ages can have experiences that can make horror a true fright. For example, children who have witnessed violence or graphic accidents may find that the prop blood used to stage many horror scenes is just too close to reality, or may not want to see or touch it. Children who have been abused may shy away from threatening figures, and for good reason—these behaviors keep them safe, both physically and emotionally.
How to Enjoy the Season
How can you enjoy the Halloween season and help your child to do the same? First, help your child to understand the fear and put it into words. Is your child simply afraid of all monsters? Try visiting an age-appropriate fun event, where the focus of the costume is to be cute or funny, not frightening. Make sure to check age recommendations at haunted houses or festivals, as many are designed for teens or older. If you know that something in particular triggers your child, work with a behavior therapist in Littleton on ways to stay calm and present during these triggers, or build strength by gently exposing him or her to the frightful event through play therapy. Teaching your child to repeat a mantra, such as “these are just costumes, the blood is just syrup and food coloring” can help to keep them focused. Make it clear that nothing is really going to harm them, and encourage them to have fun and master the fear by “being” the scary monster, including jumping out and yelling “boo” at mom and dad from behind corners.
If your child’s fear or trauma reaction is getting in the way of normal functioning, or if he or she is thinking about it very often, working with an experienced mental health therapist is your best option! Dr. Lazarus has helped many children to process trauma and emerge stronger than ever!

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